Stillwater Fly Tying StrategyPublished: 14th April 2023 | Author: Rob Edmunds
The recent winter conditions mean that most of us have found our stillwater fishing curtailed to just a few hours at our local water. But rather than spend time invariably struggling in challenging conditions, I’ve decided to take a more positive approach by being methodical about my stillwater fly tying. I’m looking forward to the 2023 season and have made a conscious effort to thoroughly prepare in order to maximize my time on the water when the fishing is at it’s best. My hope is that this inspires you to do the same!
Fulling Mill Tying Materials
Looking through the new range of Fulling Mill materials my enthusiasm in tying was rekindled. High quality materials to a tier are “new toys.” I was instantly drawn to certain products. The Shimmer Chenille, Streamer Straggle and Ice Hackle to name a few. It may sound strange but you can’t help yourself. I began examining each different material in detail. Opening the packets, holding the material to the light, stroking and feeling it to establish each materials’ own individual characteristics, how it would look/act in the water and ultimately how it could improve my favourite patterns.
I had already decided that I needed to restock my fly boxes in the closed season in order to get ahead of the game. The new material provided me with the kick start I needed. Rather than to just tie the patterns I enjoy tying (Suspender Minkies for example), I decided to do things “scientifically”. So,I analyzed my stillwater fishing diaries over the last 5 seasons in order to identify themes and patterns that had been most successful.
My Go-To Flies
I soon established that I have around 50 regular Stillwater patterns. However, I concluded also that it’s essential to have these patterns in a variety of sizes. One pattern in one size and weight will not allow me to fish different methods in different conditions over the course of a season. For example, I regularly used buzzers in sizes 10 to 14.
Choosing the Right Hook
Whatever pattern I’m tying I carefully consider which hook is best for the specific purpose. One hook will not do every job. However, some hooks are very versatile. If I was restricted to just one hook for my stillwater fly tying it would be the Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530 in size 10. It’s a good “all rounder” suitable for most applications from lures, to nymphs. You can even tie dries in size 12 and 14 on it.
An experienced tier will consider the hook size, weight, strength, shape etc. when selecting a hook. For example, you should never consider tying a fry pattern on a light wire hook as it will probably get straightened out on a good fish. Rather than to blame the hook, it’s really the fault of the tier or angler for not using the correct tool for the job.
One thing that I cannot stress enough is never consider using cheap hooks!
Cheap hooks are nearly always poor-quality. They are often blunt, bend out or break despite being of seemingly heavy gauge wire. The manufacturers don’t apply the same strict quality control procedures and in my experience the result is a vastly inferior product. To be perfectly blunt you are absolutely crazy if you use such products. Especially given the meagre price difference. It’s around 8p for a cheap hook versus 16p for a market leading product such as a Fulling Mill hook. Factor in your tying time, the cost of materials, etc and you’re basically throwing money away.
The best advice I can give is always stick to recognised brand leaders. Fulling Mill offer a huge range of high quality hooks in both barbed and barbless that cover all your tying needs for every conceivable scenario.
My tying strategy for 2023 is as follows:
At the start of the season, recently stocked fish are easy to catch. Any lure moved in front of a fish is usually enough to illicit a response. When I’m tying lures I’m often fishing with Fry patterns, Damsels, Boobies or Blobs, and am usually targeting larger grown-on fish near obstructions, such as weedbeds, pontoons or marker buoys, or in the case of Blobs, I will be retrieving the fly at speed. Takes can be ferocious and light-wire or cheap hooks bend out when taken or during the fight. Therefore, I always opt for strong heavy-wire hooks for my lure patterns Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530 in sizes 6, 8 and 10 are my “Go To” sizes.
A 5cm Olive Snakes in standard or booby form is my preferred lure pattern on almost any stillwater or reservoir no matter what time of year. The natural colour is non scary and it also loosely imitates Perch fry and Damsel nymphs. Throw in an incredible amount of movement and it’s easy to see why it’s a devastating pattern on any line at any speed. The 5cm weighted snake incorporates a 3mm tungsten bead, which gives the pattern a more pronounced undulating action. This is generally my best and most used lure as it will account for stock fish and resident fish alike. As mentioned the rear hook should be size 8 or 10 Fulling Mill 1530 Competition Heavyweight to ensure it’s strong enough for the larger than average fish encountered.
Hook: 2 x Size 10 Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530
Tying Thread: Black or Olive 6/0
Wing: 5cm Fulling Mill Olive Black Barred Zonker Strip (Standard 3mm)
Head: 3mm Tungsten Bead
Braid: 25lb Power Pro
Tying Tip: Threading the braid through the Zonker strip (twice) with a fine needle will reduce the fly tangling when casting
Perch Suspender Minkie
This is a pattern that’s required in a range of sizes. However, I generally prefer this pattern tied on a size 8 or 10 Competition Heavyweight hook. The heavy wire hook “cocks” the fly so it sits perfectly in the water with the majority of the pattern subsurface. The smaller size 10 version often gets used as my point fly for the “washing line” technique when the fry have recently hatched or the trout are feeding on sticklebacks. In contrast, the larger version is solely for fry feeders at the “back end” when the perch fry have increased in size to around 2 inches.
Hook: Size 8 or 10 Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530
Tying Thread: White 6/0
Body: Pearl Dubbing
Wing: Fulling Mill Olive Black Barred Zonker Strip (Standard 3mm)
Head: 8mm Foam Cylinder
Tying Tip: Leave an overly large foam post, it can always be cut down slightly on the bank depending on conditions
This is a fly that really needs no introduction. A great fry pattern at the back end and it’s accounted for a lot of huge browns over the years including Tom Coopers Record fish of 17lb from Rutland. I fish a size 8 Hummungus on the point and a slightly smaller size 10 on the dropper when targeting fry feeders. The bead chain eyes are essential to create that lifelike look and the undulating ducking and diving effect when retrieved. Although the original pattern had a grizzly hackle wound over the silver or gold fritz body, I find that Fulling Mill’s Streamer Straggle provides more movement when retrieved slowly and is quicker and easier to tie. It also negates the need for a grizzle hackle to be palmered through the flies body
Hook: Size 8 or 10 Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530
Tying Thread: Black 6/0
Body: Silver (or gold) Fulling Mill’s Metallic Streamer Straggle
Tail: 4 – 6cm of Black Marabou
Underwing: Silver Flashabou
Head: 3 – 4mm Bead Chaim
Tying Tip: Tie in batches, I whip the bead chain eyes on the hook first, then tie the fly
2.5” Black & Green Booby
A simple fly that will always catch fish. This is a pattern that will be most often used as a single fly on a sinking line and retrieved slowly. It’s imperative that you don’t dress the body of the fly with touching turns of fritz as it needs to collapse back and create a thinner profile when wet – too much material will obscure the gape of the hook and reduce the flies hooking ability.
Hook: Size 6 or 8 Fulling Mill Short Shank Special (Silver) 1511
Tying Thread: Black 6/0
Body 2 or 3 turns Black 15mm Cactus Chenille
Butt: 2 turns of 15mm Chartreuse Cactus Chenille
Tail: 4 – 6cm Black Marabou
Head: 5 – 7mm Foam cylinder cut to shape
Tying Tip: Pre shape the foam eyes in batches and whip to the hook before tying the fly. Keep the eye size even or the fly will spin
Love them or hate them, eggs are effective and very underrated on both reservoirs and small stillwaters especially when fished static under a “bung”. Again, tied on a heavy wire hook to ensure a fast sink rate (3mm beaded versions will sink faster still) The pattern is tied with a material called “Ez Egg Yarn” which turns almost slushy like candyfloss in the water. It creates a strange unique texture that the fish just love. The material is so soft it won’t obscure the hook gape and lead missed takes which is a common problem with a “standard egg fly”
Hook: Size 8 Fulling Mill Heavyweight Grub Barbless 5110
Tying Thread: 6/0 Pink
Body: EZ Egg Yarn light pink
Hot Spot: Ez Egg Yarm Chartreuse
Head: 3mm Tungsten bead (optional)
Tying Tip: Tie the EZ Egg Yarn in “open turns”, leave a gap of 1 mm between each turn to create a bulky profile that will collapse when taken.
Mini Biscuit Fab
A pattern purposely dressed short to create a smaller profile in the water. A round 4mm foam cylinder is used in the tail so the fly remains perfectly symmetrical and doesn’t twist and spin in the water (as can happen with cut foam tails) the perfect top dropper pattern when pulling a team of flies or fishing the “washing line” method.
Hook: Size 8 or 10 Fulling Mill Short Shank Special (Silver) 151
Tying Thread: 6/0
Butt: 1 turn of 10 or 15mm Fluro. Yellow Cactus Chenille
Body 3 turns of 10 or 15mm Fluro. Strawberry Cream Cactus Chenille
Tying Tip: Ensure varnish doesn’t get on the Cactus Chenille when finishing the fly or it will lack movement.
I tie my favourite dry-flies and nymphs in three sizes: 10, 12 and 14.
Contrary to popular belief, dry-flies do not always need to be tied on light or medium wire hooks. Patterns that incorporate large amounts of foam in them are obvious examples can easily be tied on heavy wire hook provided the proportions and materials are correct. The main benefit is that stronger hooks allow you to bully fish in compromising situations without the hook opening up. In addition, foam patterns require little if any maintenance while fishing. This saves you time especially at last knockings when the light is fading and time is short.
Another pattern that easily makes my essentials list. It’s tied on a curved heavyweight grub hook such as the Fulling Mill 1165 in size size 10 or 12. 5mm high density foam cut and shaped means this pattern will always foam well. It’s an ideal top dropper pattern to create disturbance or a point fly pattern when fishing the “washing line” method. Occasionally add gold micro steamer straggle as a thorax to create added attraction on sunny days. It’s an all season pattern and is taken not just as a daddy but a variety of insects due to it’s general “buggy” appearance. Size 14’s are great fished subsurface on Grafham’s notorious “shrimp feeders.”
Hook: Size 10 Fulling Mill Heavyweight Grub Hook Barbless 5110
Tying Thread: Tan 6/0
Body: High density foam cylinder 3mm (Tan)
Thorax: Micro gold streamer straggle
Wing: Ultra Dry Yarn White
Hackle: Palmered Cock Hackle (Brown)
Tying Tip: Trim the underside of the hackle in order to get the fly sitting “lower” on the water
For Dries that you want to lie horizontally on or in the surface, such as Hoppers and Big Reds, a medium-wire hook such as the Fulling Mill 1550 is essential. I prefer to use these patterns when drifting over open water where you can play the fish without fear of obstructions and aren’t required to play the fish too aggressively.
Emergers & Shuttlecocks (CDC’s)
Choosing a hook for emerger patterns such as Suspenders and Shuttlecocks, which represent insects hatching through the surface but with most of the fly beneath it, is a question of judgement.
Fine-wire hooks can be too light. They won’t break through the surface tension and will lie horizontally. They still catch fish, but their profile is wrong.
A heavy-wire hook (Fulling Mill 1530) will cut through the surface film and “cock” to create the correct profile. This allows the fly to sit vertically with only a small amount of material in the surface. The stronger hook won’t bend under pressure, so you are able to use the fly over weedbeds with confidence.
I feel that a size 12 heavy-wire hook is best for Shuttlecock patterns provided five or six CDC feathers are used. In the unlikely event you want a gigantic CDC then I would opt for a medium wire hook in size 10. You may get more offers with a size 10 fly, but you will undoubtedly get a lot more refusals and half hearted takes.
When tying shuttlecock patterns you want the fly to cut through the surface and “cock” by means of the heavy wire hook. However the body of the fly must be dubbed tightly with no rough or straggly fibers teased out. These trap the air and hold the fly horizontally in the surface film. Cdc flies are “high maintenance,” but they work incredibly well. Often after catching a fish or two you will need to change the pattern as it becomes waterlogged or blood stained. Rather than to mess about with powders and drying cloths it’s simpler and faster just to change the fly.
Black Shuttlecock (CDC)
A very simple yet essential dry and required in a number of sizes. A size 10 is excellent when targeting buzzer feeders on the English reservoirs during April, May and June. However it’s also essential in sizes 12 ,14 and 16 particularly on the Welsh and Scottish waters. It’s a great representation of the heather fly, beetles or just about any terrestrial insect that falls onto the water.
Hook: Size 12 or 14 Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530
Tying Thread: Black 8/0
Body: Black/Claret Seal X
Rib: Fine silver or black wire
CDC Wing: 5/6 feathers of CDC (Natural)
Tying Tip: keep the body very thin and the dubbing tight, you want the body to cut through the surface film rather than to hold in it
Early in the season, aim to fish (straight-line) nymphs through a range of depths rather than just in the surface layers. Three or four flies 5ft apart is a standard cast for many anglers. The point fly should always be the heaviest to set the cast to sink and allow the dropper patterns to cover the depths. I tend to use the heavyweight hooks previously mentioned in sizes 10 and 12 or add a small 2.5mm tungsten bead to the head of patterns to really get some depth. There is no need for light or medium-wire hooks. Should you wish to keep your flies literally just subsurface it’s far easier to use a co-polymer leader and smaller hooks ( size 12 or 14’s)
In clear or shallow water, a smaller size 12 fly has advantages in that presentation is much better. In contrast, in coloured water or at depth a larger size 10 fly with its increased silhouette is preferable.
Once the water warms and the fish are just beneath the surface the “washing line” becomes the number-one method on almost every stillwater. I find size 12 patterns are preferable to size 10s as a size 12 heavyweight hook has approximately 40 per cent less wire than the equivalent size 10. It allows for finer leaders and slower sink rates essential when fishing high in the water.
Red Holographic Nemo (Cruncher)
25 years ago I started making variants of the most popular patterns. My goal was to give the fish something a little different and set my flies apart for the run of the mill patterns that many other competitors were using. I hoped it would give me an edge on those difficult days. I reasoned that a diawl bach, although a proven fish catching fly, lacked movement and didn’t have a great profile. The cruncher had a movement and a better profile but lacked any bling. So, I simply combined the two. Initially I tied a fly thinking the red holographic tinsel head would represent the blood of an insect as it hatches and provide a target point. On reflection I think this is rather fanciful. However the result was one of the most effective stillwater nymphs to date.
In larger sizes it’s taken for buzzer or bloodworm. I tend to fish it as a top dropper pattern when straight lining nymphing as being closer to the surface allows the holographic tinsel to catch the light more. In the smaller 12’s and 14’s its an ideal pattern when fishing the washing line in clear water or over weedbeds. With smaller hooks and a hackle the fly really holds in the upper layers rather than dropping too deep. It works equally as well on corixa, shrimp or snail feeding fish. Yes it’s just a bastardization of two famous patterns. BUT it’s proven to be so much more effective than both the originals.
Hook: Size 10 – 14 Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530
Tying Thread: Black 8/0
Body: Cock Pheasant Tail
Tail: Cock Pheasant Tail
Thorax: Micro UV Streamer Straggle (olive, black,)
Hackle: 2 Turns Greenwell’s Hen
Rib: Fine Red Holographic Tinsel
Head: Fine Red Holographic Tinsel
Tying Tip: use a needle to apply a tiny dab of superglue to the thread head, then finish with red holographic tinsel, before again applying a tiny dab of superglue.
Again, a simple pattern that has proved itself time and again. I wanted a realistic pattern that would stand out in the water compared to the thousands of natural insects. A trigger that would pull the fish to my fly. I prefer a fine collar of red holographic or pearl tinsel just before the thorax. But be warned It’s a very fine line between success and failure. Bling up the fly too much with hotspots, tinsel cheeks and bright thorax covers and all you will do it attract the stock fish. Less is often more. The smaller sizes are ideal when fishing the washing line or in the autumn months when the buzzers are naturally much smaller.
Hook: Size 10 – 14 Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight 1530
Tying Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0
Body: Black Thread
Tying Tip: Coat with varnish 4 or 5 times but leave a day to ensure each coat is totally dry or it may become discoloured.
Final Thoughts: Hook colour & underbodies etc.
Over the last 10 years I’ve started to pay close attention to the colour of my hooks and underbodies and the impact is has on your pattern. It’s especially important to consider when tying dry-flies or nymphs as they’re natural patterns that are inspected closely by trout or are viewed from beneath ie dries. Get everything right and these patterns are invariably taken with confidence.
Experiment. Try hooks in silver, black nickel and bronze. Tie underbodies with pearl or metallic tinsel to create a stunning effect. The fly will glow or shine when light reflects off bright materials used in the outer layer. A reflective underbody suggests life and is attractive to trout. As with colour, you can vary the intensity of the reflected light by using different amounts of the body material.
Often I will use a very fine white thread underbody that is often covered by pearl tinsel. It gives a lighter, brighter body and, for example, allows the colour of the dubbing to stand out.